For Christian Crichton, the celebration had to look a lot like the game he just finished playing.
The 5-foot-9 Arroyo Grande High running back was still spinning and weaving through wave after wave of invaders on the field at Doug Hitchen Stadium.
Only, after the gun sounded on the Eagles’ 17-7 football playoff victory over Dominguez of Compton (10-2) on Friday, Crichton was running toward tacklers, not evading them.
“We’re excited because that was a great team, and we were up against a huge challenge,” said the senior, who hopped and hugged with teammates and random revelers after dispatching the No. 2 overall seed in the Western Division. “But our team knew what we could do, and I’m so excited that we proved it on the field.”
Arroyo Grande (10-2), which will host Chaminade next week, is into the semifinals of CIF-Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 2000, and the Eagles got there by giving Dominguez quarterback Chris Brown, a Cal Poly commit, a rude welcome to the Central Coast.
The last time Arroyo Grande made it this far in the playoff bracket, the Eagles advanced all the way to the finals, where they lost 35-14 to Ventura in the Division IV championship. The current Arroyo Grande seniors were in second grade at the time, and their emotional postgame outburst released 10 years of frustration for the school.
“Part of it is because it’s been such a long time since we’ve been in this position,” Eagles coach Tom Goossen said. “The kids have worked so hard, and when you work so hard for something and see it come out on the right side, the kids are thankful for that.”
Crichton finished with 90 yards on 19 carries, including touchdown runs of 1 and 15 yards, Arroyo Grande quarterback Brent Vanderveen rushed for 66 yards on seven scrambles, including a 40-yarder that set up Crichton’s game-sealing score in the third quarter, and kicker Garrett Owens nailed a 47-yard field goal that gave the Eagles a weighty 10-7 lead going into the first half.
But the game was won on defense, where Arroyo Grande held Dominguez to its lowest scoring output of the season. The Dons had only scored fewer than three touchdowns once during the 10-game winning streak they took into the matchup.
With Brown orchestrating its double-wing option offense, Dominguez was averaging more than 45 points in the past five games.
“We came out a little slow, very slow,” said Brown, who has given the Mustangs a nonbinding verbal commitment. “There was a lot of confusion on and off the field.
“It’s not what we’ve been doing all year. We’ve always had a game plan. We’ve always been ready to go. This wasn’t us. This wasn’t Dominguez.”
The Dons’ only score Friday was a 5-yard run by Will Gregory, who rushed for 95 yards on 20 carries, with less than a minute left in the second quarter.
Dominguez threatened again in the closing seconds of the half after recovering an onside kick, but the Dons turned the ball over on downs, just like they did on their best chance to score in the second half: A fruitless fourth-and-1 at the Eagles’ 10-yard line.
With Cal Poly offensive coordinator Bryan Cook and running backs coach Aristotle Thompson watching, Brown was 7-of-15 passing for 46 yards and was held to negative yardage on the ground, thanks to five Arroyo Grande sacks.
“That was actually the incredible part of it,” Goossen said. Brown “is a great scrambler. He’s been getting a lot of yards against a lot of people, so when you give him space, it creates problems, but I thought we did an excellent job.
“You take a look at our defensive line, and we don’t look very imposing, but we’re aggressive and fly around, and we have linebackers that are pretty aggressive, too. We make you work for everything you get.”
Morgan Beaudoin, a 5-11, 185-pound junior, was Friday’s poster boy for an undersized Eagles defense. He had a couple of sacks, and with Arroyo Grande’s defenders harassing Brown every time he dropped back to pass, it forced the Dons to all but abandon the pass.
“The key is being able to know that we can rely on the guys behind us to do their jobs really well,” Beaudoin said, “and it gives us a lot of room to work up front.
“Our defensive scheme was a little bit different — we changed it up a little bit — but overall, we just went out there and played A.G. defense.”